*I was unable to attend this lecture, but a fellow classmate was kind enough to send a
copy of their notes for this lecture
HIS311 July 17 Lecture: “The Old Smoothie”: The Pearson Years, 1963-68
Exam is on Wednesday, August 14 from 7-10 PM at STVLAD.
Professor will give a list of possible short answer and essay questions on the course
website, all questions will come from this list.
Pearson was born in 1897 and died in 1972. He was Secretary of State for External
Affairs from 1948-57. He was referred to as “old smoothie” as an ironic term because
he was anything but smooth. He was an awkward politician. He became the leader of
the liberal party in 1957 and held it until his retirement in 1968. His reign as PM lasted
from 1963-68. Pearson never had a majority government throughout his career. Lester
was also called “Mike”, a nickname he got while serving in the air force during WWI.
This can cause some confusion as records go from Lester to Mike.
Pearson’s campaign was against nuclear weapons but in January of 1963 he reversed
his position. He said that Canada under Diefenbaker had already agreed to take on
nuclear arms and he said that after attaining the arms Canada could still try to
promote peace in the world. This change of opinion didn’t affect his popularity much
because the majority of Canadians at the time were for nuclear armament.
Diefenbaker had also waffled on the nuclear question and as a result some of his
ministers reigned before the 1963 election. The U.S. thought that Pearson would be
easier to deal with so they were in favour of him winning the election. President
Kennedy actually called Pearson to give him advice but Pearson correctly told JFK that
he shouldn’t talk to him lest the public ﬁnd out about their private conversations. This
American support for Pearson caused Diefenbaker to proclaim “They’re all against me”.
Diefenbaker also referred to Pearson as “The American Candidate” because of the U.S.
support for Pearson.
Pearson had some triumphs in domestic affairs but he never enjoyed many foreign
affairs successes when in office. Pearson was dealing with a changing world which he
Pearson established the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in 1965 and the Medical Care Act of
1968. These achievements were overshadowed by Pearson’s many corrupt ministers.
He did not seem to have control over his own party and corruption was rampant.
Pearson was too agreeable and hardly took a stand on an issue.
After the election JFK invited Pearson down to his property in the States and they hit it
off immediately. It was at this meeting that Pearson agreed to take on nuclear arms.
Pearson also advised Kennedy to get out of the Vietnam war, Kennedy agreed with Pearson that they should withdraw, but he was unsure about how to end their
When Pearson returned home he and his Finance Minister Walter Gordon drafted The
Gordon Budget, 1963. This budget was protective of Canadian industries and was
viewed as anti-American. After complaints by the United States Pearson removed many
of the aspects of the budget that angered the Americans. This made Pearson look weak
in the public eye and Gordon was unhappy with his budget being altered.
Cyprus – In 1964 the former British colony Cyprus, which was predominantly Greek but
with a Turkish minority, was nearing civil unrest. Both Greece and Turkey were NATO
allies at the time and even though Cyprus was independent of them there were fears
that a war in Cyprus would bring Turkey and Greece to blows. Canada masterminded
an intervention which was an initial success. The Secretary of State for External Affairs
Paul Martin Sr. (Father of future PM Paul Martin Jr.) largely created the plan for NATO
troops to get between the ﬁghting sides. Initially this plan worked but they could not
bring the two sides to the table. Efforts in Cyprus lasted from 1964 to 1993. Cyprus
showed the shortcomings of peace missions abroad, conﬂicts could be temporarily
averted but if the sides weren’t willing to talk then it was a waste of money.
Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963 and his VP Lyndon B. Johnson took
office in the U.S. Pearson and LBJ ﬁrst met at Kennedy’s funeral. In January of 1964 the
two men struck the Columbia River Treaty. Americans wanted to use the Columbia
River on the BC border for hydro energy. Canada agreed to let the U.S. develop the
river if Canada received 50% of the energy produced by the hydro dams. The U.S. also
had to pay royalties to British Columbia. This treaty was important mostly as a gesture
of good will from LBJ to Pearson. Their relationship would go south from here onwards.
In 1965 the two sides agreed to the Auto Pact. This pact dealt with huge disparities in
the auto and auto parts trade between the two countries. Manufacturers in the United
States would sell their product at a lower price in Canada than they would in the U.S.
This pact made it so prices remained constant for both sides of the border. Two thirds
of the trade deﬁcit in Canada was a result of the unbalance auto